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Religion is none of the government's business

August 28, 2010

My three favorite phrases are, in reverse order:

No. 3. "What the Founding Fathers really said was ..."

No. 2. "What the Founding Fathers were trying to say was ..."

No. 1. "What the Founding Fathers meant to say was ..."

I think it's really cool the way we can, two centuries hence, all travel back in time and place ourselves squarely in the Founding Fathers' respective lemons.

The woman who's running for Senate in Nevada recently said if one reads the Founding Fathers' writings, it's clear they were conservative. I'm sure King George and all of the Tories would find that statement to be unspeakably amusing.

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And the Founding Fathers themselves might be amused that today we seem to believe that they were all of one mind on all subjects. Truth is, they fought like cats over just about everything. They were able to produce a constitution because they were open to compromise, a word that some around here seem to believe is spelled with four letters.

The ideologues like to cozy up to the constitution, but had the Founders been like them - unyielding - there would be no constitution because there would have been no compromise.

Yet while we seem to believe that the Founding Fathers were oracles of truth, we have less respect for the document they produced.

As a point of reference, it pays to remember that nowhere has more constitutional two-stepping occurred than as it pertains to the Second Amendment. We've been told again and again that the Founders meant to say that national guards, not people, should have guns.

Maybe they did, but that's not what the Constitution says. It says that the government can't take away our gun rights. So you can either agitate to repeal the Second Amendment or get off its back.

The same holds true for the First Amendment. It is politically popular to see the word "religion" and read "Christian." Again, the Founding Fathers might have thought the Apostle Paul was better than a hot dog and chips, but they wrote that all religions, not just Christianity, can worship as, and where, they see fit.

That's why all of the fireworks over a New York City mosque is just so much cat litter. It might be poor judgment on the part of the developers, but government has no authority to step in and tell people where they may and may not worship. Can't do it. Just like the government cannot tell a law-abiding man he can't keep a deer rifle under his bed.

It might offend your sensibilities that a mosque is being built near ground zero. Or it might offend your sensibilities that an unstable individual can so easily purchase semiautomatic weapons.

But what offends us satisfies others, and what the Constitution does is balance everyone's rights as evenly as it can. The fact that it does not - cannot - make everyone happy is proof of its success.

In America, people generally have the right to do what they want. Certainly, the conservative bloggers who continue to throw gasoline on the mosque fire have every right to do so as well, even though they are vociferously championing the liberal causes of the nanny state and of government interference that they claim to abhor.

It's counter to traditional conservatism, but today's conservatives have a real hankering for government to belly up to the bar and solve all of their problems, real or imagined. They want government to step in and prevent the mosque from being built. They want government to say who can and who cannot be legally married. They want government to dictate the terms of scientific research. They want a massive, expensive government initiative to slow illegal immigration.

This is not the agenda of a truly conservative party that wants government off of our backs. This is the agenda of a party that wants control over a government that will tell us what to do, right down to some of the most intimate details of our lives. And if those are today's conservatives, you can imagine what today's most liberal of liberals are like. For voters who are truly interested in limited government, the options at the ballot box are slim.

Olden-day conservatives might have sputtered a bit about the New York City mosque, but they would have understood the truth: Religion is none of the government's business. In this area, government is specifically directed to "make no law." And beyond that, they would have understood that the best way to stick it in the eye of our enemies would be to allow the mosque to be built.

Radical Islamists do have the Internet. And when the bloggers shoot off at the mouth, what they're saying to the terrorists is this: We're afraid of you. You have gotten so far inside our heads that we will abandon our fundamental beliefs because of your actions.

Might not a better message be this: You can shake bricks and mortar, but you can't shake our beliefs. We stand for freedom on all counts, and you have not managed to nick these freedoms in the least. You do not scare us, you do not intimidate us. You are not able to make us change our ways.

Bet that's what the Founding Fathers would have said.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 26997, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com">timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video at http://www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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